Had a tough week at the office? Love life on hold? Just found out your high school bully is more successful than ever? We’ve all got reasons to shed a tear or two, but sometimes the best cry is the one that comes with zero baggage. Take, for instance, the scrunch-face bawl that inevitably follows every viewing of The Iron Giant. Truly, movies have the power to offer us an escape and compel us to feel emotions in ways we aren’t normally allowed. Whether it be through the eyes of a character or the world they live in, we as viewers love to be emersed in the stories we watch, but the truth is, most sad movies suck. Unnecessary hardship and characters falling foul of basic mistakes don’t make for entertaining viewing. So with that in mind, we’ve curated a list of sad movies that will actually keep your attention and have you screaming, ‘I’m not crying, you’re crying!” by the end.
Table of contents
- 1. Million Dollar Baby
- 2. Grave of the Fireflies
- 3. Life Is Beautiful
- 4. Forrest Gump
- 5. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
- 6. Toy Story 2
- 7. Old Yeller
- 8. Lion
- 9. The Green Mile
- 10. Dancer in the Dark
- 11. The Pursuit of Happyness
- 12. The Iron Giant
- 13. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
- 14. The Color Purple
- 15. Titanic
- 16. Moonlight
- 17. The Notebook
- 18. Big Fish
- 19. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
- 20. The Fault in Our Stars
- 21. Sophie’s Choice
- 22. Away from Her
- 23. Steel Magnolias
- 24. Brief Encounter
- 25. My Girl
- General FAQs
1. Million Dollar Baby
Clint Eastwood’s boxing ring drama, Million Dollar Baby is a seriously tough watch for a whole host of reasons. Telling the story of Frankie, an old ill-tempered boxing coach who reluctantly agrees to train aspiring boxer Maggie. Impressed with her determination and talent, he helps her become the best and the two soon form a close bond. Prepare for a gut punch, in every sense of the phrase.
Release date: 3 February 2005 (Australia)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Adapted from: Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, Lakeshore Entertainment
2. Grave of the Fireflies
Oh lordy, you aren’t ready for this one. Grave of the Fireflies is an animated tale of the devastating meditation on the human cost of war. It follows Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi), a teenager charged with the care of his younger sister, Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi), after an American firebombing during World War II separates the two children from their parents. Their tale of survival is as heartbreaking as it is true to life. The siblings rely completely on each other and struggle against all odds to stay together and stay alive. This is harrowing, to say the least.
Release date: 16 April 1988 (Japan)
Director: Isao Takahata
Adapted from: Grave of the Fireflies
Distributed by: Toho Co., Ltd., StudioCanal UK
3. Life Is Beautiful
Taking things back to the warzone, Life Is Beautiful is a seriously interesting contrast of environments. The Italian comedy-drama was directed by and stars Roberto Benigni, who masterfully tells the life story of a Jewish father and his family surrounded by Nazi death camps. Living in a hostile environment, he uses humour to shield his young son from the grim realities of war. You’ll cry, but you’ll probably laugh too.
Release date: 26 December 1998 (Australia)
Director: Roberto Benigni
Music by: Nicola Piovani
Box office: $230.1 million
Distributed by: Miramax, Hollywood Pictures
Featured Video from Man of Many
4. Forrest Gump
He may not be a smart man, but he knows what love is. Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 masterpiece Forrest Gump is a true story of the wrong man in the right place at the right time. The complex storyline follows Forrest (Tom Hanks), a man with a low IQ, who recounts the early years of his life when he found himself in the middle of key historical events. All he wants now is to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Jenny (Robin Wright), who the internet has dubbed as the worst character in film history.
Release date: 17 November 1994 (Australia)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Adapted from: Forrest Gump
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures Studios
5. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
A real-life heartbreak, Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is an American documentary film written, produced, edited, and directed by Kurt Kuenne about his close friend, Andrew Bagby. The film follows the 28-year-old medical student’s murder at the hands of his girlfriend Shirley Jane Turner and the events that followed. While the subject matter is dark, it’s the interviews with Andrew’s relatives and friends that will really get to you.
Release date: 31 October 2008 (New York)
Director: Kurt Kuenne
Box office: $18,334
Production company: MSNBC Films
6. Toy Story 2
Look, we know it’s a children’s movie, but Toy Story 2 had us weeping in aisles like proud nonna at her granddaughter’s wedding. Woody and the gang are back, however, things go awry when the cowboy is kidnapped by a greedy toy collector Al McWhiggin. Nowhere to be found, Buzz and his friends set out to rescue him, but to bring back their friend, the toys will have to leave Andy’s bedroom.
Release date: 2 December 1999 (Australia)
Director: John Lasseter
Music by: Randy Newman
Box office: $497.4 million
Screenplay by: Andrew Stanton; Rita Hsiao; Doug Chamberlin; Chris Webb
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
7. Old Yeller
It’s a story about a boy, his dog and post-Civil War Texas. You can pretty much sense where the storyline is going with this Walt Disney classic. Based upon the 1956 novel of the same name by Fred Gipson, Old Yeller stars Tommy Kirk, Dorothy McGuire, Kevin Corcoran, and Fess Parker. It will make you cry and probably adopt a pet.
Release date: 25 December 1957 (USA)
Director: Robert Stevenson
Adapted from: Old Yeller
Music by: Oliver Wallace; Will Schaefer
Box office: $6,250,000 (U.S./Canada rentals)
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Based on the 2013 non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, Lion follows Saroo (Dev Patel) who gets separated from his family at the age of five and ends up being adopted by an Australian couple. A true tale of belonging and the quest to find home, Saroo’s journey sees him head back to India in an attempt to uncover his birth parents. An incredible performance from Patel, highlighted by a stunning return from Aussie legend Nicole Kidman makes Lion not just one the best sad movies of all time, it’s a stone-cold classic.
Release date: 19 January 2017 (Australia)
Director: Garth Davis
Music by: Dustin O’Halloran; Hauschka
Adapted from: A Long Way Home
Box office: $140.3 million
9. The Green Mile
Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan and Frank Darabont nail this incredible adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel. Seriously, this one has everything and at over three hours, it’s not surprising. Hanks plays Paul, the head guard of a prison during the Great Depression who meets a unique inmate, John. The hulking an African American is accused of murdering two girls, however, despite his enormous frame, he appears to not have a malicious bone in his body. In fact, as Paul soon finds out, John is unlike anyone on earth. If you don’t break at ‘Roll On Two’, you don’t have a heart.
Release date: 10 February 2000 (Australia)
Director: Frank Darabont
Story by: Stephen King
Screenplay: Frank Darabont
Adapted from: The Green Mile
Awards: Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actor
10. Dancer in the Dark
Never thought we’d be spruiking the acting talents of Björk, but here we are. The bleak musical drama shows the Icelandic musician in a whole new light, as a Czech immigrant who moves to the US with her son Gene. Working hard, despite suffering from blindness, the heroine must put it all on the line to save herself and her family. It’s weird, but then again, it’s Björk so you get what you pay for.
Release date: 26 December 2000 (Australia)
Director: Lars von Trier
Budget: USD$12.5 million; (120 million kr)
Production companies: Zentropa Entertainments; Canal+; FilmFour; France 3 Cinéma
11. The Pursuit of Happyness
Back before Will Smith went all slap-happy, he was churning out performances that brought tears to your eyes, none more telling than The Pursuit of Happyness. Inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman struggling to build a future for himself, the movie is a harrowing exploration of self-determination. When Chris’ wife decides to separate, it leaves him financially broke with only an unpaid internship in a brokerage firm to help him navigate his son’s custody battle.
Release date: 11 January 2007 (Australia)
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Box office: $307.1 million
Adapted from: The Pursuit of Happyness
Awards: MTV Movie & TV Award for Best Breakthrough Performance
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, Sony Pictures Releasing
12. The Iron Giant
In by far his greatest acting performance to date, Vin Diesel stars as an animated inhuman robot that hardly says anything. That’s not a shot at Vin, it’s actually a testament to how good this flick is. The Iron Giant is set during the Cold War in 1957 and follows a nine-year-old boy named Hogarth Hughes who befriends an innocent alien, who resembles a gigantic robot. A paranoid governmental agent, however, desires to obliterate the alien, leaving Hogarth as the only person fighting for his survival. Simply amazing.
Release date: 6 April 2000 (Australia)
Director: Brad Bird
Adapted from: The Iron Man
Music by: Michael Kamen
Production company: Warner Bros. Feature Animation
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
13. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Some find him grotesque, others cute, but whatever your take on E.T., you can’t help but be intrigued by the animatronic bag of elbow skin. Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus follows young Elliot (Henry Thomas) who saves an alien who is left behind on Earth and decides to keep him hidden. While the task force hunts for it, Elliot and his siblings Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) form an emotional bond with their new friend.
Release date: 26 November 1982 (Australia)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Box office: $792.9 million
Music by: John Williams
Written by: Melissa Mathison
Distributed by: Universal Pictures, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
14. The Color Purple
The film that turned Whoopi Goldberg into a serious household name, The Color Purple is a mesmerising coming-of-age period drama film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name. With possibly the grimmest storyline in film history, this flick isn’t exactly light-hearted viewing, but some incredible performances from Whoopi, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery and even Oprah Winfrey transform this bleak story from torturous to triumphant. If you haven’t seen it, get on it.
Release date: 26 June 1986 (Australia)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Adapted from: The Color Purple
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Look, we all know what happens at the end, but that doesn’t stop Titanic from being a genuine tear-jerker. From steamy sex scenes to the motion-sickness inducing dance number, the epic romance and disaster film has it all. James Cameron’s 1997 mega flick takes both historical and fictional aspects of the beleaguered vessel’s maiden voyage, told through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet). The fair lass hails from an aristocratic family and is set to be married, however, when she boards the boat and meets Jack Dawson, played by generically sexy Leonardo DiCaprio, it all goes to shit. Also, almost everyone dies, so there’s that to look out for.
Release date: 17 December 1997 (Australia)
Director: James Cameron
Box office: $2.202 billion
Budget: 200 million USD
Production companies: Paramount Pictures; 20th Century Fox; Lightstorm Entertainment
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures Studios, 20th Century Studios, Paramount Home Entertainment
A24 films have a certain majesty about them and Moonlight is no exception. The 2017 Best Picture winner tells the story of Chiron, however, it’s far from a straightforward narrative. Split into three stages – childhood, adolescence, and early adult life, Moonlight tackles sexuality and identity in a truly unique way, whilst never shying away from the physical and emotional abuse Chiron endures growing up. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the film stars André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, with an utterly mindblowing performance from Mahershala Ali.
Release date: 2 September 2016 (USA)
Director: Barry Jenkins
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Awards: Academy Award for Best Picture, MORE
Screenplay: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney
Distributed by: A24, Camera Film
17. The Notebook
Yeah, yeah, we know. Cliche’s aside, The Notebook is actually a pretty good flick with a sneaky little twist to keep you on your toes. Based on the 1996 novel of the same name by everyone’s favourite romance writer Nicholas Sparks, the film stars Ryan Gosling as Noah and Rachel McAdams as Allie, two lovers separated by fate. When Noah goes off to serve in World War II, all hope appears to be lost, but on his return, the spark simply reignites. Watch it with your partner and score some brownie points.
Release date: 14 October 2004 (Australia)
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Story by: Jan Sardi
Music by: Aaron Zigman
Adapted from: The Notebook
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
18. Big Fish
For those who haven’t seen it, Big Fish is somehow Tim Burton’s most and least-weird film. Told as an anthology of tall tales, the film explains the incredible life of Edward Bloom as described by his unforgiving son Will. In a quest to find out which of his father’s stories were really true, Will slowly begins to realise that fact may actually be stranger than fiction.
Release date: 5 February 2004 (Australia)
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay by: John August
Music by: Danny Elfman
Adapted from: Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing
19. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Strap yourself in for this one. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is an American comedy-drama film that follows high school slacker Greg. While the carefree and charismatic lead is content spending most of his time goofing off, he is forced by his mother to befriend Rachel, a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer. All of sudden, Greg’s outlook on life changes and he realises the true value of friendship. You will definitely need the Kleenex.
Initial release: 25 January 2015
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Music by: Brian Eno; Nico Muhly
Cinematography: Chung Chung-hoon
Adapted from: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures
20. The Fault in Our Stars
Not unlike Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Fault in Our Stars tackles the fragility of life in a uniquely teenage setting. The film follows two cancer-afflicted teenagers who meet at a cancer support group. Finding kinship in their oddly similar situations, the connection quickly becomes romantic as they embark on a journey to visit a reclusive author Peter Van Houten in Amsterdam.
Release date: 5 June 2014 (Australia)
Director: Josh Boone
Featured song: All of the Stars
Adapted from: The Fault in Our Stars
Box office: $307.2 million
Distributed by: 20th Century Studios
21. Sophie’s Choice
Meryl Streep at her enigmatic best, Sophie’s Choice is a genuine classic. The haircuts, the acting, the bizarre turn of phrase that inevitably followed the release of the film – It’s all good stuff. Adapted from William Styron’s 1979 novel of the same name, the movie follows Stingo, a writer, who befriends Sophi, an immigrant, and her emotionally unstable lover, Nathan. The three-way relationships twists and turns as Stingo learns more about Sophie’s past and her estranged relationship with Nathan.
Release date: 25 March 1983 (Australia)
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Adapted from: Sophie’s Choice
Box office: $30 million
Awards: Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Distributed by: Universal Pictures, Lionsgate, ITC Entertainment
22. Away from Her
There’s probably nothing sadder to watch than Alzheimer’s take hold, but Hollywood has traditionally failed to capture the sombre tone of the debilitating illness. Away From Her takes a different approach, following the story of Fiona and Grant, a happily married couple forced to part ways because of Fiona’s Alzheimer’s disease. Raw, real and very heartbreaking, Away From Her feels like a character study that demands greater recognition.
Release date: 4 October 2007 (Australia)
Director: Sarah Polley
Adapted from: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
Music by: Jonathan Goldsmith
Box office: $9.1 million
Distributed by: Lionsgate, Lionsgate Films, HanWay Films, Mongrel Media, Bioscop
23. Steel Magnolias
Worth watching for the accents alone, Steel Magnolias is a seriously interesting film. Landing somewhere between comedy and drama, the flick tells the story of a young beautician who arrives in a small Louisiana town and finds work at the local salon. Desperately afraid that she might lose her daughter in childbirth, she turns to her girlfriends for strength and support, which winds up actually being helpful for a change.
Release date: 5 November 1989 (USA)
Director: Herbert Ross
Music by: Georges Delerue
Adapted from: Steel Magnolias
Awards: Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
24. Brief Encounter
Proof that old dogs still have new tricks, Brief Encounter might be a little dated by today’s standards, but the themes still ring true. The film follows bored suburban housewife Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) who is thrown by happenstance into an acquaintance with virtuous doctor Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). While their relationship starts out casual, something blossoms and the two are forced to confront the weird situation they find themselves in. Give everything up for the unknown and repent and be left wondering what could have been?
Release date: 26 November 1945 (United Kingdom)
Director: David Lean
Music by: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Adapted from: Still Life
Written by: Noël Coward; Anthony Havelock-Allan; David Lean; Ronald Neame
Distributed by: Universal Pictures, MGM Home Entertainment, Eagle-Lion Films
25. My Girl
A true rollercoaster of emotions, My Girl starts out as a walk through the sunshine and lollipop forest and ends as a brutal lesson in self-preservation. The film tells the story of Vada Sultenfuss, an 11-year-old girl with hypochondria whose life is turned upside down when she befriends Thomas J. Sennett, an unpopular boy her age who is allergic to “everything”. Macaulay Culkin at his cutest.
Release date: 9 April 1992 (Australia)
Director: Howard Zieff
Music by: James Newton Howard
Budget: $17 million
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Production company: Imagine Entertainment
Netflix has a large library of movies from every genre, but the saddest movie on Netflix would have to be the 2007 romantic drama film P.S. I Love You.
Our list is full of amazing directors who in their own right all have amazing sad movies. But the best sad movie director would have to be Howard Zieff.
Featured Video from Man of Many