We all have those days when we could use a good cry. When we could bathe in the tragedy of fictional characters and feel a little less alone. Thankfully, Netflix has an amazing selection of heart-wrenching movies that provide those perfectly emotional, cathartic moments. Whether you need an escape from reality or simply want to treat your softer side, these sad movies will let your feelings flow in a safe space. And with so many choices available on the world's largest streaming service, we've made it easier for you to find the perfect tearjerker to watch right now.
From touching love stories filled with loss and longing to moving dramas that highlight important social issues, Netflix's vast library houses the kind of movies that will have you reaching out for tissues. And even though there's nothing pleasant about the absolute crushing weight of melancholy provided by these stories, sometimes it's important to let the sadness sweep you over because it can later leave you feeling curiously uplifted. Sad movies allow you to experience difficult emotions from a safe distance and release built-up pressure in a way that is satisfying.
So if you find yourself needing a good, life-changing weeping session, let these sad and beautiful films give you a glimpse into the complex lives of others as you experience a full range of emotions for them and with them.
Updated on August 11th, 2023, by Soniya Hinduja: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.
18 If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
A brilliant tale of justice and rightful representation, If Beale Street Could Talk is a deeply affecting love story based on the fifth novel written by author James Baldwin. Tish and Fonny were childhood sweethearts, and they grew up knowing each other's skin and veins. Eventually becoming lovers and making a child together, they created a little world of their own. But when Fonny gets wrongly accused of a crime and is imprisoned, a pregnant Tish sets out to prove his innocence and grant him justice.
The movie does a remarkable job of displaying just how many brutal troubles African-Americans face in the country. Moreover, it charts the relationships, like that of Tish with her mother and sister and Fonny with her conventional family, with nuance and realism. But perhaps the greatest strength of the movie lies in its anger and Tish's struggle.
17 Irreplaceable You (2018)
Tragic romances are a go-to for many movie-goers, and when you have one available to watch from the comfort of your home, why not make the most of it? From director Stephanie Laing, this stunning, glossy drama tells the story of Abbie and Sam, who have been inseparable since they were children. They were best friends first, and over the years, their friendship transformed into something truly beautiful, with them engaged to be married.
But when Abbie finds out that she is terminally ill, she decides to find a new love for Sam before she dies. Meanwhile, her frequent hospital visits get her acquainted with another cancer patient Myron, who is played by Christopher Walken. Besides the perfect cast actors, Irreplaceable You is also wonderfully scripted because it tunes the relationship between Abbie and Sam with a lot of emotion. This is why, towards the end, it breaks your heart to see them drawn apart.
16 The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)
Based on Diane Ackerman's non-fiction book about a true story of how two people rescued and provided refuge to hundreds of Jews during World War II, The Zookeeper’s Wife celebrates the lesser-known heroes who chose their humanity and their respect for others over everything else. In 1939 Poland, a Polish couple Jan and Antonina Żabiński ran the Warsaw Zoo with absolute love and care. When their country is attacked by the Nazis and they’re forced to cower under their brutality, Jan and Antonina have no choice but to report the chief zoologist.
And at the same time, they join the Resistance and save the lives of many affected people by building the Warsaw Ghetto. Starring Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, and Daniel Brühl as the main leads, the film handles the subject matter with sensitivity and delivers a touching and fascinating story about a disturbing event in history.
15 The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, and Selena Gomez star in this light-hearted but extremely touching story that is adapted from a 2012 novel by Jonathan Evison. The story, despite being simple, explores some very important and humane themes like friendship, the importance of hope, and finding purpose in the most unexpected places in life. Rudd plays Ben Benjamin, a writer who chooses to retire after going through a brutal divorce and losing his young son.
On a whim, Ben decides to take a caregiver's course and then devotes himself to taking care of Trevor, an 18-year-old physically disabled kid. As the two spend more time together, Trevor learns to leave his sarcastic self behind and Ben eventually copes with his loss. Despite having some really funny moments, The Fundamentals of Caring is a certified tearjerker.
14 Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Tom Ford’s second feature is a visceral portrait of love and masculinity, twisting the blade in the corpse of modern-day relationships. Playing out as parallel storylines, the film is led by an all-star ensemble cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and more.
While Nocturnal Animalsis heavily steeped in tense moments of psychological terror, the film’s heart beats with a melancholic sadness to it. Despite its overbearing opulence, Tom Ford’s film distills a very relatable emotion of guilt and regret before putting it forth as a pertinent question: can most of life’s choices be attributed to a single, awful mistake?
13 Blue Jay (2016)
Blue Jay is director Alexandre Lehmann’s fictional directorial debut, and the romantic drama never fails our expectations. Mark Duplass plays Jim and Sarah Paulson plays Amanda. The two grew up in the same mountainous town and were inseparable in high school. But being out of touch for more than two decades creates a drift in the dynamic.
So, when they accidentally bump into each other at a convenience store back home, their town Crestline, Calif, becomes a stunning backdrop for the sparks to reignite. The reason for Jim’s return to Crestline takes them to the past, and as bittersweet the memories are, revisiting them has Jim and Amanda spiraling into sadness. A hidden gem in Netflix’s huge database of romances, Blue Jay delivers a soft aesthetic paired with nostalgia and love.
12 Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Part movie, part rite of passage, Call Me By Your Name is a manifestation of a boy’s desires, aloof to the workings of the world. A ravishment of the senses, Luca Guadagnino’s film follows an affair between a coltish 17-year-old Italian-American Elio, and Oliver an American in his 20s.
Set against the backdrop Italian rural town in the summer of 1983, Call Me By Your Name charts the highs and lows of Elio and Oliver's affair, touching on all notes from happy to sad, before culminating into an episode of heartbreak and the loss of innocence it ushers with it.
11 All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
Edward Berger’s anti-war epic made a clean sweep at the Oscars, with All Quiet on the Western Front winning four awards out of nine nominations. Accolades and acknowledgment aside, Berger’s film provides a raw and dizzying portrait of the horrors of war, the cost it comes at, and the ones who bear the cost.
While depicting the harsh realities of war, Berger creates contrast by juxtaposing an insulated German general, well-fed and far away from the dangers of the war, feeding his dog a pound of meat while his soldiers are getting their brains blown out by the enemy.
10 To the Bone (2017)
When he wasn't breaking people’s bones playing John Wick in Chad Stahelski’s John Wick series, Keanu Reeves starred as Dr. William Beckham, an unconventional specialist in Marti Noxon's To the Bone. Flipping his personality to seep into the role, Reeves plays Beckham with a gentle kindness that’s persistent throughout his personality.
To the Bone deals with sensitive issues like anorexia and food disorders and deals with them with an enormous degree of compassion and empathy without being overly patronizing or preachy. Norton’s film paints a diverse picture of what life looks like with an eating disorder as we see Lily Collins’ Ellen come to terms with her anorexia, while trying to heal herself emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
9 A Man Called Otto (2022)
Losing a loved one is possibly one of the saddest and darkest experiences a human can go through. Many films have explored this theme, but none come close to A Man Called Otto. A buddy movie at heart, A Man Called Otto has all the conventional tropes of a loner film.
However, it's interspersed with moments of love and laughter, while it still manages to comment on heavy subjects like suicide, the loss of a child, and the empty meaning of life. Tom Hanks brings an emotional performance to the film that is sure to make fans cry.
8 Kodachrome (2017)
A movie inspired by a 2010 New York Times article, Kodachrome is a touching road trip drama centered around an aging, terminally ill father and the strained relationship with his son. When Benjamin learns that Kodachrome, the iconic film he’s relied on as a photographer for decades, is being discontinued, he tries to convince his reluctant son Matt to take one last road trip together to develop the remaining rolls of film and cherish them in memory.
Convinced by Ben's nurse, Matt agrees to journey across the country. They meet old friends and revisit the past, and like every road trip with a parent, there are differences that resurface. But the confines of their car also lay an opportunity to reconnect. The movie, in all its honest beauty and brutal humor, examines the feeling of regret, the need for repairing broken bonds, and rediscover lost joys – before it is too late.
7 Les Misérables (2012)
The saddest movies don’t always have to be about unattained love or fractured relationships. It doesn’t even matter if you’re particularly empathetic or not, or if you’re even familiar with the history, Les Misérables is an epic musical drama that drips with joy, sorrow and hope in great amounts. Set against the backdrop of early 19th century France, the story follows Jean Valjean, an ex-prisoner struggling for redemption by living a better life, Inspector Javert, a detective obsessed with capturing him, and the many lives that are forever changed by their chance encounters.
The pursuit between Valjean and Javert is quite touching as it intertwines tales of love, sacrifice, and revolution at a time when France reached a turning point and entered the dawn of a new era. Moreover, Victor Hugo's sprawling novel is brought to life by powerful performances from Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, and an Oscar-winning Anne Hathaway.
6 Passing (2021)
Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut is a powerful period drama based on the 1929 novella of the same name written by Nella Larsen. The movie is set during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, and follows two light-skinned Black women who can “pass” as white but choose to live on the opposite sides of the color line. Clare and Irene reunite years after estrangement and together, they reflect on choices made and lives not lived as secrets and lies unfold their cracked relationship.
Passing is an important movie because it touches on themes of racism, colorism, and interracial connection in 1920s America in a way that is visually appealing (thanks to the black-and-white filming). Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga deliver power-packed performances and convey emotions full of both heartbreak and hope.
5 Roma (2018)
Created by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, Roma is an autobiographical drama that follows the life of a live-in housekeeper of a middle-class Mexican family in the 1970s. Cleo has helped Antonio and Sofía take care of their home and four children for years. But when Antonio cheats on Sofia and flees, she decides to take the kids and Cleo on a vacation. The story may seem like a turbulent family drama on the surface, but its focus on themes of memory, loss, family, hope, and social hierarchy amidst the backdrop of political backdrop in a country ridden by fragile times is truly spectacular.
With its breathtaking cinematography and subtle performances by the actors, the film tries to create a portrait of the quiet beauty in the everyday struggles of a family as well as a nation through the eyes of a maid whose only purpose is to care for the family’s children. Roma captures the truth of the unseen individuals who have changed our lives carefully and intimately.
4 Still Alice (2014)
Starring Julianne Moore in an Oscar-winning performance as Dr. Alice Howland, Still Alice is a heartbreaking drama that revolves around a Columbia professor who finds out that she is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease at the age of 50. It’s always sad to watch someone’s memories, most cherished days, and closest people fade away from memory. And as Alice’s memory slips away, it’s as if her entire world begins to shrink within her hands, and she tries very hard to hold on to her sense of self and her relationship with her family.
Needless to say, Moore is incredible at capturing the emotions that Alice goes through. The frustration, the fear, and the dignity of a brilliant, accomplished woman fighting a losing battle with her own mind. But more importantly, directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland portray how love and connections become even more resilient in these trying times.
3 Marriage Story (2019)
Marriage Story is the kind of movie that you wouldn’t want to watch if you’re in a perfectly healthy relationship. Why? Because it will get you to rethink your relationship or marriage and everything you’ve ever worked on building with a partner. If that’s not much of a warning, here’s the premise: Charlie, a stage director, and Nicole, his actor wife, are going through a harsh and draining divorce that brings out the best and the worst in their love and humanity as they navigate their careers, parenthood, and the crumbling relationship.
Told from both husband and wife’s perspective, the movie stresses some of the most intimate details of their lives, petty grievances, and raw emotions that come to the surface during a separation. Played out brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, the characters are as relatable as they are repulsive. We are them and everything we wish to never become.
2 All Together Now (2020)
Amber Appleton is a lovely individual. She’s liked by people at school, she’s got her grades in place, and she dreams of studying musical theater at Carnegie Mellon University, the same school her father went to. But Amber is keeping a huge secret: she and her mother Becky are homeless, and she’s living on the bus that Becky drives to school. Because of their worsening money situation, Becky decides to seek help from her abusive ex-boyfriend.
On the upside, Amber is invited to audition at Carnegie Mellon. Auliʻi Cravalho plays Amber with searing honesty and compassion, while One Day at a Time’s Justina Machado brings a deeply moving energy to Becky. Through powerful musical performances, laughter, and emotion, All Together Now yanks you up and down like a rollercoaster ride, and finally, very gently, sets you into place.
1 Pieces of a Woman (2020)
Pieces of a Woman is inspired by an original play created by the movie’s director, Kornél Mundruczó, and screenwriter, Kata Wéber. It is an emotionally devastating but eventually inspiring drama about a couple who is trying to heal after experiencing a tragic incident. Revolving around Martha and Sean, a young Boston couple who are expecting a baby, the movie charts the events after Martha delivers a baby who immediately dies because of cardiac arrest.
From the haunting opening sequence itself, which is shot beautifully in one continuous take, the film sets a touching tone for a story that is about to portray grief, anger, guilt, and isolation after an unthinkable loss. Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf play the main couple and they are phenomenal. They show their pain, the depth of their loss, and the rawness of the messy, overwhelming journey of mourning the loss of a life they were so ready to celebrate with sheer honesty. You’re not getting through this one without bawling your eyes out.