by LAURA HANRAHAN
Thrillers and Rom-coms are great and all, but sometimes you’re just in the mood for a good cry. These days, that “sometimes” is more like “all the time” because we are alive during a pandemic! Ha ha ha. Curling up on the couch in your coziest jammies with a pint of your favorite ice cream and letting your feels hang all the way out while streaming a sad movie is like the lazy, free version of a private therapy sesh.
If you’re the type to start tearing up from just a sad movie trailer (hi, guilty), then you should be warned that every single one of the movies on this list will have you destroying an entire box of tissues. But if you’re the type of robot human who needs something REALLY sad to get the water works flowing, I found some options to split open your ice cold heart, too. No matter which movie you pick, you’re gonna be clutching your heart (and your ice cream) reaaaaaaal tight. From ’90s classics like The Shawshank Redemption to recent hits like Marriage Story, here are the best sad movies you can stream on Netflix tonight.
Freedom Writers (2007)
As emotional as this movie gets, it’s also extremely uplifting. Teacher Erin Gruwell tries to connect with her classroom of at-risk high school students by having them keep diaries of their lives, which include traumas such as abuse, gang violence, and homelessness. This movie is based on a true story, which just makes it that much more of a gut-punch.
ONE DAY (2011)
Dexter and Emma spend July 15th, the night of their college graduation, together—and then we see them on that same day, July 15, for the next 18 years. This movie subjects you to a lot of ups and downs—sometimes Dexter and Emma reunite, while other times tragedy strikes. It’s adapted from a David Nicholls novel of the same name, btw.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
French teen Adèle really wants to fall in love…with a boy. But it’s the blue-haired aspiring painter Emma who catches her eye. Their relationship gives Adèle an entirely new sense of desire, but there can’t be love without a little loss.
A Little Princess (1995)
I’ve seen this movie more times than I can count and I still cry every. single. time. The young (and wealthy) Sara Crew is dropped off at boarding school when her father heads off to fight in WWI. After receiving some devastating news, little Sara is forced to work at the school as a servant.
Marriage Story (2019)
Despite the title, this is actually a movie about divorce. And with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver giving some of the most powerful performances of their career, you’re gonna be moved to tears, no matter whose side of the divorce you’re on.
Lost Girls (2020)
Mari Gilbert is desperately trying to find her missing daughter, who, unbeknownst to her, has become the latest victim of the Long Island serial killer. The part that makes this movie even more upsetting is the fact that it’s based on a disturbing true story.
This coming-of-age story centers around Chiron, who we see throughout three stages of his life in Miami: youth, adolescence, and early adult life. You’ll witness both physical and emotional abuse, but the central tension is his struggle to come to terms with his sexuality.
TBH, the entire vibe of this movie is sad and effed up—it’s about a woman who’s been held captive for seven years in a bad man’s shed, after all—but it’s got a few heartwarming pockets of joy sprinkled in, especially when you get to see her and her son (who was born in captivity) adjust to the outside world. BTW, your faves Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay co-star.
The Pianist (2002)
Adrian Brody plays real-life Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who was living in Warsaw when the Nazis invaded Poland. It’s a suuuper emotional look at what Szpilman went through as he struggled to survive the war.
Someone Great (2019)
After getting dumped by her long-term boyfriend, Jenny has one last night out in NYC with her two besties before she plans to move across the country to California. Yeah, the movie is pretty cute and funny, but you’ll still shed a few tears watching Jenny come to terms with the end of her relationship.
Heartbroken and alone after his marriage ends, Ted decides to try a new operating system (think Alexa, but, like, way more advanced). His OS, Samantha, becomes his friend, and then…much more.
This movie was intentionally edited in black and white, so you know it’s going to be emotional. It follows the life of a live-in maid in a rich household in 1970s Mexico City. There are domestic issues in the home and political issues in the city, so overall, it’s an extremely emotional journey.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Okay, I’ll be honest, this movie is HEA-VY. But it’s also a classic. When a young boy and his family move to Poland, he befriends another kid who lives on the other side of a fence near his home—but the thing is, that boy is in a Jewish prison camp.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
This is the story of Alan Turing (aka the OG computer scientist), who was hired to decode secret German messages during the second World War. But while he was out there saving the world, he was secretly dealing with inner turmoil as a result of trying to hide his sexuality. At the time, being gay was flat-out illegal.
All the Bright Places (2020)
Elle Fanning and Justice Smith play two teens struggling to deal with scars from their pasts. Together they discover that even in dark times, there are bright places. (Aww.)
20th Century Women (2016)
Yeah, this is another Elle Fanning movie, but this cast is even more stacked because it’s got Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig, too. Bening plays a single mom trying to raise her son and help him find his place. Since that’s, uh, a bit of a tough job, she asks Greta and Elle’s characters for help.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams may make a stunning couple, but in this movie, they play a pair on a severe downward spiral. The movie looks back on the time when they first got together as their marriage is presently falling apart.
My Girl (1991)
If you haven’t seen (and cried through) My Girl by now, I will not tolerate your delinquency any longer. For those of you who remain ignorant unfamiliar, it’s about 11-year-old Vada, whose life isn’t exactly the most cheery: her mother dies giving birth to her and her dad runs his funeral director business out of their home. The movie follows her for a summer where she learns all about love and loss.
As dark as this movie is (it’s about a young woman who kidnaps a baby from an irresponsible mother and then pretends the bb is her own), it’s also features some good laughs to lighten the mood.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
When Ron Woodroof learns that not only does he have AIDS, but he only has 30 days to live, he refuses to accept the news. He starts searching for unapproved treatment drugs and ends up smuggling them into the U.S. and selling them to other AIDS patients. Oh, and the story is totally true. Also, yeah, that’s Matthew McConaughey!
Dear John (2010)
When super hot soldier John Tyree (aka Channing Tatum) falls in love with Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried), they decide to write letters to each other during his deployment. But—surprise—it’s not super easy to keep a relationship going with letters alone.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Life isn’t exactly smooth sailing for single father Chris Gardner, who’s willing to do whatever it takes to secure a better life for him and his son—including taking an unpaid internship and living in shelters.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences for killing his wife and her lover, except there’s one tiny HUGE problem: he didn’t actually do it.
Okay, this movie is kinda cheesy, but I promise it’ll have you welling up. When Michael Newman gets a universal remote that lets him control his life, he starts fast forwarding through the unpleasant parts, but he quickly learns that he’s actually skipping out on the very valuable time with his family. Sweeeeeet.
To the Bone (2017)
Lily Collins plays a young woman battling anorexia. She’s been in and out of all different kinds of treatment programs with no success. But then she meets an unconventional doctor who challenges her to really face her condition. You should know, btw, that this movie was pretty controversial when the trailer first dropped—people accused it of glamorizing eating disorders.
If anything’s gonna get you feeling The Feels, it’s watching two men (one black and one white) who fought together in the war return to their still very racist home in Mississippi.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
A pretty dang sweet coming-of-age story based on a book of the same name. It’s about a high school senior who’s very into drinking and partying who meets a girl who’s very into being studious and quiet. And yep, you guessed it: They start an ~unlikely~ romance during their final year at school.
6 Years (2015)
This movie follows a young couple that has been together for six years (that alone is a true feat, IMO). Now, it’s almost time for their college graduation, but in the span of a few weeks, things turn violent and opportunities for their futures pull them apart.
First Match (2018)
After many, many years in foster care in Brooklyn, a high school girl tries to reconnect with her estranged father by joining the boy’s wrestling team.
Irreplaceable You (2018)
What do you do when you’re given a terminal cancer diagnosis? Well, if you’re Abbie, you try to find a new love for your fiancé.
About Time (2013)
This movie has definitely got classic rom-com vibes, but there are also a few twists and turns that’ll make you get choked up. We meet Tim Lake, who, at the age of 21, discovers he can time travel. So he uses his superpower to do what any reasonable person would do: find a girlfriend.
When big-shot lawyer Andrew Beckett is outted for being gay and having AIDS, he’s immediately fired from his job. He then teams up with the only lawyer willing to take his case, and sues his old employers for discrimination. Hell. Yes.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Shy and socially awkward Charlie has just started high school when he meets two free-spirited seniors who help him find his confidence and teach him the amazingness of friendship. It’s a cute one.