Last Updated: February 26th
Sad movies take a lot of forms, but this list of good Netflix films hits the big buttons, including some of the most powerful movies to watch about love, star-crossed love, concentration camps, death, and Brie Larson.
Regardless of what gets your tear ducts primed and pumping, there is something in this list must-watch streaming sobfests that will get at your heart’s sorrow spot. “Enjoy” the 15 saddest movies on Netflix right now responsibly.
Related: The Best Dramas On Netflix Right Now
Marriage Story (2019)
Run Time: 136 min | IMDb: 8.1/10
Noah Baumbach’s star-studded divorce drama is pure Oscar bait, but in the best way. The film takes a look at messy breakups with Scarlett Johansson playing an actress and mother named Nicole, who is intent on separating from her stage director husband Charlie (Adam Driver). Laura Dern and Ray Liotta play their hard-hitting lawyers, who don’t help in diffusing the tension and resentment building between the pair when Nicole moves herself and their son across the country. It’s an intimate look at the emotional wreckage of a divorce and the struggle to put a family back together again, and it’s carried by some brilliant performances by Driver and Johansson.
Run Time: 111 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight will always be remembered for winning the Academy Award for Best Picture after a mix-up that initially named La La Land as the winner. But that’s just an asterisk attached to a momentous coming-of-age story set over three eras in a young man’s life as he grows up in Miami, grappling with the sexuality he feels will make him even more of an outcast while searching for guidance that his drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) can’t provide. The film is both lyrical and moving and won justifiable acclaim for its talented cast, including a Best Supporting Actor award for Mahershala Ali as a sympathetic drug dealer.
The Pianist (2002)
Run Time: 150 min | IMDb: 8.5/10
An Oscar-winning Adrien Brody leads this World War II drama based on a true story about a Polish-Jewish pianist forced to survive during Nazi occupation. Władysław Szpilman, a talented musician, finds himself in Warsaw during the height of WWII where he helps to lead an uprising in a Jewish Ghetto before being forced to flee for his life from German soldiers. Brody went full method for the role, losing a dangerous amount of weight to play a tormented, tortured Szpilman, so you kind of owe it to the guy to watch this one.
War Horse (2011)
Run Time: 146 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
Horses, like dogs, make for worthy emotional fodder and this Steven Spielberg World War I epic proves it. There’s plenty of front-line action here, but it’s filtered through the lens of a young boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his connection to his beloved horse. When the animal is sold to the cavalry, Albert enlists and leaves his small English village to track down his best friend. Tom Hiddleston and David Thewlis also star as Spielberg uses sweeping shots of tattered battlefields to give us a birds-eye-view of the devastation war can cause.
Run Time: 135 min | IMDb: 8.7/10
Oscar-winning writer/director Alfonso Cuaron delivers what may be his most personal film to date. The stunningly-shot black-and-white film is an ode to Cuaron’s childhood and a love letter to the women who raised him. Following the journey of a domestic worker in Mexico City named Cleo, the movie interweaves tales of personal tragedy and triumph amidst a backdrop of political upheaval and unrest.
The Notebook (2004)
Run Time: 123 min | IMDb: 7.9/10
It wasn’t over and it still isn’t over … our love for this sticky-sweet melodramatic romance from Nicholas Sparks that is. Netflix knows what the people want — a rain-soaked Ryan Gosling professing his undying love for Rachel McAdams — and the streaming platform is giving it to us. The movie is a staple of the romance drama, and, whether you love it or hate it, Gosling and McAdams have chemistry and talent that’s undeniable. Be warned though, as sweeping as this love story is, it’s also devastatingly heartbreaking, and there are more than a few scenes that require an abundance of tissues as a viewing companion.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Run Time: 94 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
Any drama depicting the atrocities committed during the Holocaust is going to be a tearjerker but somehow, this film eclipses the others. Probably because director Mark Herman chose to focus that terrible time in our history through the lens of two young boys. Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is a young German, the son of a Nazi commander. Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) is a Jewish boy being kept at a concentration camp run by Bruno’s father. The two strike up a friendship in secret, one that has far-reaching consequences on both sides of the fence, and the film’s ending is a gut-punch that hits you right in the feels.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Run Time: 117 min | IMDb: 8/10
Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas Buyer Club is a searing look at how the world failed the LGBTQ community during the devastating AIDS crisis. McConaughey stars as Ron Woodruff, a man diagnosed with the disease in the ’80s during a time when the illness was still misunderstood and highly stigmatized. Woodruff went against the FDA and the law to smuggle in drugs to help those suffering from the disease, establishing a “Dallas Buyers Club” and fighting in court to the right to aid those in need. The story is all the more powerful because it’s true and McConaughey delivers one of the best performances of his career as Woodruff, a man who changes his entire outlook on life after being dealt a tragic blow.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Run Time: 117 min | IMDb: 8/10
Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith share the screen in this Oscar-nominated tearjerker about a struggling salesman trying to provide for his family. Smith plays Chris Gardner, a man at the end of his rope who’s looking to make a fresh start in a new career. When Gardner’s ex splits, leaving him to take care of their young son, we watch as he attempts to create a better life for them both despite the setbacks and roadblocks put in his path. It’s heavy, emotional work that Smith does here. It’s also some of his best.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2014)
Run Time: 180 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
There’s a lot of unsavory fog hovering around this production — director Abdellatif Kechiche earned his leading actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize by putting them through an experience they’d later describe as “horrible” — but beneath it all, there remains a shatteringly intense love story. Unformed young Adèle (Exarchopoulos) doesn’t quite know what she wants from life until the second she lays eyes on blue-haired, worldly Emma (Seydoux). The girl’s resulting erotic awakening, graphically depicted in a ten-minute sex scene that forms this three-hour film’s breathtaking centerpiece, is just part of a larger hunger for life. Adèle makes love the same way she cries or fights or eats spaghetti, the same way young people do anything: with reckless abandon.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Run Time: 112 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
This romantic drama starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling is equal parts sweet love story and messy, unavoidable tragedy. The actors play a pair of lovers whose relationship is charted in nonlinear fashion over the course of the film. Things begin promisingly, as they always do, before failed careers, addiction, dishonesty, and a general feeling of unhappiness slowly rot away at the couple’s marriage. It’s a mesmerizing train wreck, but honestly, aren’t all of the great love stories?
P.S. I Love You (2007)
Run Time: 126 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
Is P.S. I Love You the saddest, sappiest flick in the history of film? Probably not, but it is the biggest tearjerker on this list. Hilary Swank plays Holly, a young widow trying to heal after the death of her husband, Gerry (Gerard Butler). Unbeknownst to her, Gerry has scheduled 10 letters to be delivered over the course of the film, each directing Holly and helping her to begin her life again, without him in it. It’s an emotional mess of a movie. Swank is crying most of the time, and Gerry’s well-meaning notes just make things worse, but it’s also a lovely commentary on losing a loved one and the work it takes to build a life of your own.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Run Time: 118 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio star in this heartbreaking family drama about a young man struggling to care for his disabled brother and morbidly obese mother. Depp plays the titular Gilbert Grape, a kid with plenty of dreams and even more responsibilities keeping him from pursuing them. DiCaprio plays his mentally challenged younger brother Arnie who relies on Gilbert and their mother — a woman whose weight threatens her health — for everything. It’s a tearjerker for sure, but it’s also brilliantly acted and painfully relatable.
Run Time: 24 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
Clocking in at 24 minutes, the Oscar-nominated Extremis really would only work as a short, as its subject matter is almost unbearably heavy. Following terminal patients, their families, and their doctors, the tearjerker zeros in on the decision that many people are forced to make: whether to end a life or keep struggling to hold on. Netflix’s first foray into short documentary, it’s raw insight that can be rough for anyone who has been in similar shoes or spent any time facing dire choices in a hospital.
Run Time: 118 min | IMDb: 8.2/10
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in this gripping drama about a mother and son held hostage for nearly a decade. The film, based off a work of fiction, pulls elements from real-life trauma cases as it follows a woman named Joy (Larson) and her son Jack (Tremblay) who exists in a singular room, cut off from the outside world. The two plot an escape, are eventually rescued and must cope with the effects of their harrowing ordeal while adjusting to life outside of the room. Larson is deserving of every award she won for this film, and her chemistry with Tremblay will have you grabbing for the tissues throughout the film.
Recent Updates Through February 2020
Added: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Pianist, The Notebook
Removed: Revolutionary Road, Short Term 12, Milk