14 Sad Netflix Movies for When You Just Need to Cry It Out

sad netflix movies


Feel like crying? Just let it out. Now’s the time. When you’re quarantining alone, with your cat, or your dog, or your pet bottle of vino. Currently, Netflix is streaming the second season of Ricky Gervais’s After Life, a sad drama series charading as a snarky comedy. And over at HBO, there’s the harrowing Derek Cianfrance HBO drama, I Know This Much Is True. Whether you’re done binging one or waiting on new episodes from the other, we have 14 films to keep you swimming in salty tears, all hiding out in the corners of Netflix’s expansive digital library. Here, you may need these when you’re done.

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My Girl

The only way we can live in a world that allows the bumblers of a beehive to do what they did to Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin) in the 1991 family gem My Girl is to wholly believe that those bees were just overly enthusiastic, die-hard fans of the child star who never meant to take their fan mob that far.

They just didn’t. A feel-good coming-of-age story that climaxes with heartbreak, My Girl will require something absorbent to soak up the stream of tears, but with the Motown tunes, Anna Chlumsky’s preteen performance, and hippie Jamie Lee Curtis, it’s so worth it.


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It’s gut-wrenching to think about anyone veiling their true self for fear of judgment, or worse, rejection. But that’s exactly what the protagonist of Barry Jenkins’s remarkable 2017 Best Picture does: He trudges through the stages of life unable to reveal to others,

and even himself, his authentic identity and sexuality, tugging on our heartstrings as we watch from afar and just want to give him a hug. Inspiring, enlightening, superb in its execution, this Oscar-winning portrait of a journey through boyhood, teenhood, and manhood is mandatory viewing.


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Rebecca Hall (The Gift, The Town) stars as Christine Chubbuck, a Florida news reporter struggling with devastating isolation in the early ’70s, in this strange and depressing period drama from The Sinner director Antonio Campos.

And it’s not so much that its based-on-truth narrative will make you will cry tears of sadness, rather it might affix a somber lump in your gut that may never really go away. If you aren’t familiar with the news story at play here, we’ll give you only the headline: Sarasota Reporter Shoots Herself on the Air.


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Marriage Story

A couple (Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver) who once found each other’s idiosyncrasies endearing now find each other intolerable. Promises they made are getting pummeled like weak sheetrock. And insults as cutting as an X-Acto blade on bare skin get hurled like softballs.

The heartbreaking aftermath that ripples through a broken marriage is on full display in Noah Baumbach’s somewhat-autobiographical Oscar winner, and it’s hard to watch at times. But it’s not all sad. There’s some romance, there’s some comedy, there’s even some Randy Newman music.


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Pan’s Labyrinth

Monster maestro Guillermo del Toro’s war-torn fairy tale of sorrow and brutality is so many things: It’s a gorgeous feat of visionary accomplishments. And it’s a student of magical realism’s blueprint for perfection. About a little girl named Ofelia

who escapes the horrors of her everyday life, including her villainous stepfather, the sadistic Captain Vidal, by getting lost in an underground world of enchantment, Pan’s Labyrinth, at its core, is a soul-crushing take on humanity. And its ambiguous ending may just be the stuff the fetal position is made of.


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The Pursuit of Happyness

Will Smith plays against type in this 2006 true-story drama for which the former Fresh Prince earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination. About a single dad who won’t allow failed relationships, poverty, and even homelessness keep him from achieving his potential,

the heartwarming film stars Smith opposite his real-life son, Jaden Smith, who was seven years old during filming. Their chemistry is palpable, so much so that when Jaden, who plays Christopher, puts that little hand to Daddy’s face and says, “You’re a good papa,” there won’t be a dry eye in the room.


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Tom Hanks. Denzel Washington. The AIDS epidemic. It may as well be the good-cry trifecta. A court drama from The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme, Philadelphia stars the two heavyweights in leading roles—Hanks as a lawyer who’s been fired from a firm because he has HIV, Washington the homophobic attorney willing to represent him in a wrongful dismissal suit—and don’t say we didn’t warn you about the tear jerking that’s to come.


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Blue Valentine

In this contemporary marriage story from Derek Cianfrance (I Know This Much Is True), Dean, played by Ryan Gosling, and Cindy, played by Michelle Williams, are the perfect couple. Until they’re not. Told in bilateral storylines—one in which the proverbial daisy says,

“She loves him,” and the other in which the petals reveal, “She loves him not”—the film unfolds through the dissolution of Dean and Cindy’s relationship, and delivers several wet-face-worthy moments along the way.


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Celebrated Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón treated audiences to what Netflix called a “love letter to the women who raised him” with the streaming giant’s 2019 Oscar winner, Roma. A powerful Spanish-language portrait that follows a year in the life of a domestic worker,

it’s shot in stunning black and white, and demands a viewer’s attention. But Roma is one of those films you don’t necessarily watch, rather you experience it right along with the actors. And trust us, there is incredible sadness to experience.


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Perhaps the saddest film in this curated roundup, Blackfish is also the truest. It’s not often a documentary causes us to shed an embarrassing number of tears—enough to fill a whirlpool, seriously—but Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s film exposing the ugly side of SeaWorld did just that.

It first introduces the world’s most famous orca, Tilikum, legendary not only for his water shows but also for killing three people. The doc then dives into the scientific evidence behind the whale’s troubled behavior: like being stripped from his mother’s side as a baby, then confined to a box and abused for decades. If you are any kind of animal lover, this one will hit you hard.


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Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t do feel-good romantic comedies. He doesn’t really even do comedies. He tried with Punch-Drunk Love, but even that one is an emotional roller coast you may find yourself in a fit of tears over. With Magnolia,

an ambitious yet phenomenal multilayered ensemble opus starring Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, and so many more, the auteur doesn’t hold back. He takes his spotlight and he shines it directly on life’s harshest realities: death, despair, loneliness, addiction, we could go on.


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End of Watch

Now, a found-footage buddy crime drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña doesn’t exactly scream “wistful watch,” but this is another Netflix offering that requires some salty-tear blotting. When Officers Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Peña)

find themselves in the crosshairs of the Mexican cartel, shit gets real. Of course, we won’t give anything away, but the captivating friendship on display between director David Ayer’s leading men is the driving force behind the film’s emotional catharsis.


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La Bamba

If you don’t know the tragic story of rocker Ritchie Valens, then we won’t be the bearer of bad news. We’ll let Luis Valdez’s 1987 rock-and-roll musical drama do the heavy lifting instead. Starring a young Lou Diamond Phillips behind the guitar as the forefather of the Chicano rock movement,

Freeing oneself from the emotional grips of a toxic person is no easy feat. And when that poison comes from a parent, it becomes even more difficult. But that’s exactly the predicament Mo, a Brooklyn teenager who grew up in foster care, finds herself in, in Olivia Newman’s La Bamba is mostly a joyous biography celebrating the singer’s rise to stardom, complete with a time-capsule soundtrack. But, of course, tragedy always gets in the way.


DeAnna Janes is a freelance writer and editor for a number of sites, including Harper’s BAZAAR, Tasting Table, Fast Company and Brit + Co, and is a passionate supporter of animal causes, copy savant, movie dork and reckless connoisseur of all holidays.

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