40 Sad Movies When You Need a Good Cry
Grab a box of tissues and let it all out with these sad movies that will turn you into a blubbering mess (in the best way possible).
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The best tearjerkers of all time
The best sad movies are no joke. They make you cry—a lot—and that’s exactly what audiences are betting on. Weepies, as they used to be called in the classic Hollywood era, remain a popular genre to this day, and many of them rank among the best movies of all time. But why do we like putting ourselves through the emotional wringer? For starters, it’s cathartic. Sometimes you just need a good cry to let it all out; you weirdly feel better when the vicarious trauma is over. Gut-wrenching films also bring us closer to our own hearts, allowing us to experience strong emotions and reminding us that we’re not alone. And in some, tears mix with moments of triumph and intimacy to help us more fully understand the depth of the human experience.
On this list, you’ll find everything from award-winning films and historical dramas that take on injustice to animated classics and family movies. There are also plenty of romantic movies for the love addicts in the house, as well as all-around good movies you can’t help but adore. But fair warning: These films will totally destroy you. So grab a box of tissues and take a look at these sad movies that will bring you a much-needed emotional release.
Terms of Endearment
Director: James L. Brooks
Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine make the perfect mother-daughter team in this classic sad movie that’s also punctuated with moments of levity and uplift. The two drive each other crazy, but they’re also besties. MacLaine won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as a passionate mom. We dare you not to sob during the scene when she yells at the nursing staff to bring her daughter that pain medication—stat! And good luck keeping it together during the hospital goodbye scenes. If you also like to get weepy while you read, put these sad books on your must-read list.
Dead Poets Society
Director: Peter Weir
Robin Williams is at his finest as passionate English professor John Keating, who inspires his students to march to their own drums. But like all free thinkers, he finds himself in the midst of controversy when one of his students takes it too far. This is one of those sad movies where the characters can’t hold back the tears—and you won’t be able to either. Before the sobbing starts, listen for some of the most famous movie quotes of all time.
The Fault in Our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Hazel Grace and Gus are two teens who meet in a support group and crack jokes about the perks of having cancer in this tearjerker of a romance based on the popular book by John Green. The two fall in love with each other and with a novel that inspires them to take a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Amsterdam for a meetup with their favorite author. Their story is tender, touching, and relatable—and you can expect to cry throughout their last act. Here are more books that were made into movies.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Director: Steven Spielberg
Yep, this Steven Spielberg classic is a total tearjerker, and you’ll be weeping long before the mothership flies away at the end. Young Elliott befriends the short little botanist from outer space, and they bond over Reese’s Pieces—who wouldn’t? Steady yourself for the last few scenes, which involve saying goodbye … but not for good. As E.T. puts it, with his glowing finger pointed right at your heart: “I’ll be right here.” In the mood for some more old-school favorites? Check out this list of the best Star Wars movies, ranked.
Director: Richard Attenborough
The real-life love story of C.S. Lewis, the guy who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, is a total sob-fest. Anthony Hopkins plays the famous author, and he will end up crying in front of the wardrobe that inspired the famous book series. It’s a heartbreaker when the love of his life, played by Debra Winger (who already broke your heart in Terms of Endearment), gets a rare type of bone cancer. The English countryside is just as lush as the love story, which comes as a small comfort. After this one, you might need a little pick-me-up in the form of one of the best funny movies of all time.
Imitation of Life
Director: Douglas Sirk
Lana Turner plays a single mom who climbs to stardom with the help of her faithful maid and BFF, played by Juanita Moore in an acclaimed performance. Director Douglas Sirk knew how to lay the irony on as thick as the glitz. Sandra Dee shows up as Lana’s daughter in the second half and, at one point, begs her mom to “quit acting!” It’s melodramatic, soapy, and sequined. Nevertheless, you won’t be able to hold back the tears when Mahalia Jackson bursts into song at a funeral fit for a queen. If you love Hollywood classics, these movie musicals will have you singing in no time.
Director: Herbert Ross
Sally Field is an acting titan in this play turned movie about a group of best girlfriends who bond over hairstyles and gossip. Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, and Olympia Dukakis round out the cast of women who brood over Julia Roberts’s character’s illness. Field acts her heart out in a funeral scene that will turn on your waterworks. Big time. Want another trip back to everyone’s favorite decade? These ’80s TV shows will provide all the nostalgia and none of the sobbing.
Sense and Sensibility
Director: Ang Lee
This Jane Austen drama stars Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson as an ill-fated couple who take a backseat to all the drama going on with Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) and her terrible taste in boyfriends. The dashing Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) finally wins Marianne’s heart, and just when you think that’s your happy ending, you get surprised with an even better one! Sobbing, messy, can’t-hold-’em-in tears of joy really hit the spot at the end of this gorgeous romance. You’ll also get swept away in the best possible way by these romance novels.
Director: Ang Lee
This critically acclaimed LGBTQ movie comes to life in the engrossing performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger, who play ranch hands who develop a relationship while tending sheep alone on a mountain. Their love story unfolds across years as they each try to move on with their lives and forget the other. By the end, you’re immersed in their lives and filled with the ache that exists beneath love that’s forbidden because of bigotry and hate.
Director: David Hand
You’ll find gorgeous visual design in this animated classic that manages to infuse a cartoon movie with striking beauty and relatable themes. The young deer Bambi must contend with the harsh ways of the world after his mother is shot and killed by a hunter. And yes, that moment is as sad as it sounds. Bambi shows the devastation humans bring to the natural world and the ways it threatens the wilderness and the creatures who scamper within it.
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
According to science, The Champ is the saddest movie of all time, even sadder than Bambi. (Yes, really.) John Voight plays a boxer with a little boy (Ricky Schroder) who idolizes him. Although the world sees him as washed up, he needs to dust off his boxing gloves and get back in the ring to provide for his son. This movie will definitely make you cry, so be prepared … and maybe follow it up with one of the best action movies.
Director: Jonathan Demme
Denzel Washington plays the attorney who Andy (Tom Hanks) hires to sue the law firm that fired him after he contracted AIDS. Have a hanky handy as Andy copes with the disease alongside his partner (Antonio Banderas) and his family. You’ll empathize with him throughout the movie, not only as he suffers from the disease but also from the cruelties of discrimination.
Director: Ryan Coogler
This is one of those sad movies that’s even more emotionally devastating because it’s based on a true story. The drama follows the excruciating events that took place when police detained a young Black man in a train station on New Year’s Eve. You’ll find yourself filled with the sorrow and rage that sparked activism against police brutality against people of color in Oakland, California, where these events took place, and in ensuing years across the nation. Don’t miss the Black history movies worth watching year-round.
Me Before You
Director: Thea Sharrock
If you like your sad movies to include a love story, then this romance, adapted from the popular novel by Jojo Moyes, fits the bill. Emilia Clarke stars as Lou, the hired caretaker for a disabled man (Sam Claflin). Despite initial love-hate vibes and vastly different backgrounds, the two form a close bond and fall in love. This drama skews sentimental in its depictions of disability and primarily focuses on Lou’s journey through loss. Audiences went wild for the story and made it a blockbuster.
Director: Marc Forster
In this biopic, Johnny Depp stars as J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. The writer meets a widow (Kate Winslet) and bonds with her children, who end up inspiring his famous children’s book. It’s a beautiful period drama set in the world of stage plays, but a tragic illness at the center will not leave a dry eye in the house.
Directors: Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich
In this beloved Pixar hit, a young boy travels to the Land of the Dead and begins to interact with his deceased relatives. Despite the setup, this is a kid’s movie that deftly handles emotional material as it explores grief and the family bonds that connect us. While this one made our list of the best Disney Halloween movies, it’s a beautiful film that certainly doesn’t need to be limited to October viewing.
My Sister’s Keeper
Director: Nick Cassavetes
This family drama follows two sisters in the most complicated of situations: The older sister has a terminal illness, and the younger one was conceived to donate organs to her. You’ll find yourself enraptured by the bond between the girls and the sorrowful choices families make. It stars Abigail Breslin as the younger sister, who sues her parents for medical emancipation, and Cameron Diaz, in an affecting performance, as the sisters’ mother.
Dancer in the Dark
Director: Lars von Trier
The pop star Björk plays a single mother, Selma, condemned to death in this strange musical that’s also an homage to The Sound of Music. Get ready for soul-searing ugly-crying as you bond with the doomed woman who tries to save her child’s failing eyesight in the midst of her tragic incarceration and impending death sentence.
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Director: Mike Newell
The weddings are hilarious and joyous in this classic romantic comedy movie, but the funeral in the title will tear your heart out. Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell play the central couple, always engaged to other people, but it’s the relationships of their friends that shows what true love looks like.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Will Smith and son Jaden Smith play father and son in this sentimental tearjerker about a man struggling to support his child in a cruel and indifferent world. Based on a true story, this award-winning audience favorite captures grit and determination that will leave you in tears, happy and sad, throughout.
Bridge to Terabithia
Director: Gábor Csupó
This inspired adaptation of the award-winning young-adult novel, published in 1978, brings to life the friendship of two fifth graders—outcasts at school who bond while creating an imaginary world in nearby woods. You’ll fall in love with the young characters, who are each dealing with their own struggles, and you’ll find it hard not to sob when an unexpected tragedy strikes.
Pieces of a Woman
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Get ready for a dramatic opening scene that follows the arrival of a midwife to the home of a woman in labor, continues through the birth of the infant, and highlights the stirring aftermath—all rendered with intimate realism. Vanessa Kirby was nominated for an Academy Award for the role, while Ellen Burstyn gives a riveting performance as her mom. Both women face unimaginable losses, making this one of those sad movies that will stay with you for a long time.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Director: Barry Jenkins
This gorgeously shot drama follows a young Black couple as they face the crushing effects of racism and discrimination in the 1970s. Adapted by Barry Jenkins from James Baldwin’s novel, it’s a devastating historical account of police corruption and the destruction it wreaks. Don’t miss these powerful James Baldwin quotes that will inspire you.
Director: Lulu Wang
Awkwafina plays Billi, a young Chinese American woman who finds out that her terminally ill grandmother only has a few months to live. The extended family keeps the elder woman’s diagnosis from her, thinking the secret is a better option. Billi travels home to China under the auspices of a wedding and keeps up the ruse in this bittersweet, heartbreaking, and moving drama.
Holding the Man
Director: Neil Armfield
This heart-wrenching film, set in 1970s Australia, is based on an affecting memoir of the same name. It’s the story of two teen boys who fall in love in high school but must flee to escape disapproval. The movie chronicles their journey across the years as they each grapple with illness amid the continuing bigotry of a world that doesn’t accept their relationship.
Director: Chris Kelly
Warning: You’ll be sobbing your heart out in the first few minutes of this family drama about a second-grade teacher (Molly Shannon) who gets a devastating diagnosis. Jessie Plemons gives a heartbreaking performance as her adult son, who movies back in with the family and must deal with his father (Bradley Whitford), who still hasn’t accepted his coming out a decade earlier.
Director: Jerry Zucker
It’s a good thing this weepy supernatural drama has plenty of comedy or else its gut-wrenching moments would wreck you forever. Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance as a wisecracking medium who can talk to the dead, while Patrick Swayze plays the ghost who seeks to bring closure to his girlfriend (Demi Moore) in this ’90s movie. If you prefer to keep your ghosts and other paranormal experiences spooky, head over to this list of the best horror movies.
Director: Howard Zieff
Macaulay Culkin stars with Anna Chlumsky in this heartbreaker that follows the inspiring friendship of two kids and one terrible tragedy. We don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t seen this one, but know that it’s a tearjerker of cult renown that you should only watch if you want to cry very, very hard.
Director: Garry Marshall
In this classic dramedy about longtime besties, Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey play friends who go through ups and downs across the years. They’re estranged (over a man) until one of them gets diagnosed with a terminal illness and they realize the true strength of their bond. Watch out for the soundtrack-induced tears, especially during the film’s award-winning original song, The Wind Beneath My Wings.
Director: Pete Docter
This sweet animated family film takes place in the “command center” of a child who relocates to a new city and school. You’ll follow her memories, personified as characters, in the vivid emotional landscape inside, which includes moments of joy and also sadness, such as when her memory fades of her beloved imaginary friend, Bing Bong.
The Normal Heart
Director: Ryan Murphy
Mark Ruffalo stars with Matt Bomer in this award-winning HBO drama about AIDS activism in the early ’80s. You’ll be inspired by the grit and bravery of the activists in the face of a bigoted world as you follow the compelling love stories of those in the trenches of the crisis.
Director: Chris Columbus
This popular musical, adapted from the Broadway stage hit, takes place during the height of the AIDS crisis, bringing those with the disease to the forefront. The movie captures the devastating loss, as well as the love and grief of those who survive. It’s a tearjerker that’s as somber as it is inspiring and hopeful, and it has an amazing soundtrack that you’ll want to play on repeat.
Grave of the Fireflies
Director: Isao Takahata
In this must-watch film from Studio Ghibli, you’ll follow two siblings during the final months of World War II in war-torn Kobe, Japan. Stunning animation captures the love between the two and the enormous loss and sorrow in the aftermath of devastation. This movie will affect you deeply, so be prepared.
Director: Chris Columbus
The melodramatic setup will still make you sob your guts out, even though you know it’s coming. Susan Sarandon plays a single mom with a terminal illness whose ex-husband plans to marry a woman she knows will become her children’s stepmom. Despite the anguish of that scenario, the ailing mom has to make her relationship work with the new woman, played by Julia Roberts.
Director: Jane Campion
Gorgeous art direction and sumptuous costumes fill the screen in this mesmerizing love story between the Romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse and love, Fanny (Abbie Cornish). The two are pulled apart by strict social convention and the fragile disposition of the sensitive poet. These compelling historical fiction books will also transport you to a different era.
Director: Barry Jenkins
This deeply sensitive drama follows a young boy, Chiron, through three stages of life, each played by a different actor, as he grapples with bullying, abandonment, and coming to terms with his identity and sexuality. Barry Jenkins directs this Best Picture Oscar winner filled with stunning cinematography and performances as it depicts Chiron’s strength and survival with a sense of beauty that exists in the midst of struggle.
Director: Gillian Armstrong
There are four film versions of this popular drama about sisters based on the classic book, and each of them will pull at your heartstrings with tears both sad and triumphant. In the 1994 version, Claire Danes gives a captivating, heart-wrenching performance as Beth, the sister with fragile health. If you’re looking for a sentimental movie about the bonds of sisterhood, this is the flick for you.
P.S. I Love You
Director: Richard LaGravenese
In this rom-com with a somber premise, Hilary Swank plays a widow whose husband designed a series of letters and adventures for her before he passed away. Gerald Butler plays the deceased charmer in this weepy film about lost love and the hope to begin again in the face of overwhelming grief.
Director: Michael Sucsy
This high school love story takes a supernatural premise and infuses it with intimate and relatable sensitivity. A spirit moves into the body of a totally different person every day and interacts with the same girl … who falls in love with the entity. This is an overlooked gem that will move you in unexpected ways.
Director: J.A. Bayona
It’s impossible not to cry when you watch this harrowing drama based on the real-life experience of a family caught in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as a married couple with three sons who are separated from one another after the horrifying wave demolishes the shoreline. For something totally different (and a lot lighter) than these sad movies, check out the best suspense movies or the best new comedies next.
After you’ve had a good cry with any of these sad movies, look to any of the best comedies on Netflix for a good laugh.